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Showcasing Arizona Cardinals' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs

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Showcasing Arizona Cardinals' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals were the league's surprise success story in the first month of the 2012 regular season. Unfortunately, things went completely south from there, as the struggling franchise won just one of its final 12 games to finish 5-11.

That led to the dismissal of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the staff, and has ushered in a new era with reigning AP Coach of the Year Bruce Arians at the helm.

So where do the Cardinals go from here? What sort of strengths can they build on, and what serious shortcomings must be addressed through the draft?

Check out this position-by-position breakdown of the current Cardinals' roster, and what can be done in the draft and otherwise to ensure a successful maiden year under Arians and Co.

 

Quarterback

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
One big question is what the QB guru Arians will do for the Cards at the game's most critical position.

Kevin Kolb is still locked in with a massive contract, but he has been inconsistent and injury-ridden. And barring some kind of miracle, neither John Skelton nor Ryan Lindley are quarterbacks of the future.

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What plagued Arizona the most was its offensive line play, which allowed the most sacks in the NFL last year. This led led to just 15.6 points per game and an average of 262 yards of total offense. Those numbers were 31st and dead-last in the league, respectively.

The really good news is that Arians has fostered the development of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and most recently Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts.

Arians brought along Manning's longtime play-caller Tom Moore as an offensive consultant, and the two are familiar with each other from Arians' stint as Manning's early QB coach. In his opening press conference, Arians let it be known that he'll be calling the plays.

There is a plethora of offensive geniuses that should have Kolb and even the other quarterbacks excited at the prospect of developing under them.

Look for Kolb to open the year as the starter, since he showed promise prior to a season-ending ribs injury in 2012. Don't be surprised if he thrives in this new system and gets the Cards off to another hot start.

 

Running Back

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
This is a potential problem spot, but again, offensive line play has a lot to do with it. LaRod Stephens-Howling wound up as the team's leading rusher with 357 yards on 3.2 yards per carry.

Yikes.

Ryan Williams is extremely explosive, but he has only played five games in his first two years as a pro. That hasn't stopped Arians from being excited about Williams' future, though, and he still has plenty of upside, assuming he can stay healthy.

Beanie Wells has endured his own injury trials and tribulations, and he fell seriously out of favor with the previous Whisenhunt staff. The former Ohio State standout has never quite lived up to his first-round draft billing, and he could be on his way out of Arizona.

The offense Arians runs is known to be pass-heavy, and it will be up to this crop of backs to do a solid job in picking up blitzes so that deep plays can develop.

It wouldn't be wise for the Cardinals to prioritize this position in the draft, as there are no can't-miss players. Look for a possible late-round choice or free agency to add depth here.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight End

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Larry Fitzgerald needs help to be the contributor he's capable of being to the Cardinals' offense.
And here is by far the biggest strength on offense—and likely a big reason as to why Arians took this job in the first place.

Larry Fitzgerald's prowess goes without saying, and top-10 pick Michael Floyd finally began to come on strong at the end of 2012. Combine that with the underrated Andre Roberts and the immense potential of tight end Rob Housler, and Arizona has its share of playmakers in the passing game.

In Indianapolis, athletic TE Dwayne Allen was used as an H-back in some situations, which is something that Arians could do with either Housler or Jeff King to throw opposing defenses off.

The production of this bunch comes down to whether or not the Cardinals have a quarterback who can deliver the football to them. Obviously, that hasn't happened since the Kurt Warner days, but when this talented bunch do get opportunities, they must take advantage of them.

The NFC West is likely to have the best defenses across the board in 2013, and Arizona will need to put up at least some points to hang with the other three rapidly improving rivals.

 

Offensive Line

Butch Dill/Getty Images
This should be a huge point of emphasis in the draft. Unless the new staff is really sold on a QB prospect at No. 7 overall, the Cardinals should select the best offensive lineman available.

It's extremely difficult to project what teams in front of them will do, but the players who will most likely be available are Alabama guard Chance Warmack and Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher.

ESPN's Todd McShay has said that Warmack is the best guard prospect he's ever evaluated, which is high praise, to say the least. Warmack would instantly fortify the interior of the offensive line and give the Cards a much better chance to run the football consistently.

On the other hand, the quarterback's blind side will be important to protect, and Fisher would be able to fill in at left tackle as a Week 1 starter. Fisher's outstanding showing at the Senior Bowl has his stock soaring, and he has played right tackle and right guard throughout his career with the Chippewas.

The return of tackle Levi Brown and longtime center Lyle Sendlein from a torn MCL will automatically improve this unit, but it has to be the top priority on draft day.

As much as Arians' scheme relies on the vertical passing game, fortifying the offensive line will become all the more important.

 

Defensive Front Seven

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Linebacker Daryl Washington is very underrated, and led the team with 134 combined tackles and nine sacks in 2012.
This has been a strong area in recent years, although a shift from Ray Horton's 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is likely to occur.

The ramifications of the change should be interesting, because Arizona needs to add depth at defensive tackle in order to get it done. Dan Williams has thrived at nose tackle, but the Cards don't have a solid No. 2 to go along with him.

Thankfully, the draft is littered with intriguing defensive tackle prospects. Look for either Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, UNC riser Sylvester Williams, Purdue's Kawann Short or even Jonathan Jenkins from Georgia to get strong looks here.

Any of these four prospects would team with Dan Williams to form a solid wall against the run, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett—who is poised for a bounce-back season—providing plenty of pass-rush.

As far as the linebacking corps is concerned, there is plenty to like.

Daryl Washington is one of the most underrated players in the game on the inside. Journeyman Paris Lenon enjoyed a fine 2012 campaign and is a free agent, but Washington will do just fine in the middle of a 4-3 outfit.

On the outside, Sam Acho and Quentin Groves are massive, athletic players who also registered four sacks apiece.

Groves should be back after signing a one-year deal, but he may test the free-agent market. Nevertheless, there aren't really any pressing needs in this facet of the defense.

 

Secondary

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Thanks to the acquisition of William Gay from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the continued emergence of top-five pick Patrick Peterson, the Cards' defensive backfield is stacked.

Veteran strong safety Adrian Wilson has been perpetually loyal to the franchise, although his window is closing. He is joined at safety by Kerry Rhodes, who intercepted four passes in 2012. But the big story is clearly Peterson.

Not only is he a dynamic punt returner, but he is emerging as one of the better corners in the game. He intercepted seven passes in his second season, and he should continue to improve given his limitless potential.

The Cardinals may add a corner just to fortify depth, but that can be addressed in the middle of the draft and shouldn't be the biggest concern.

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